Dysarthria in Toddlers – What is it, Diagnosis and Treatment Options

6 min read

Written by Sindhuja Prabhu

Sindhuja Prabhu

Dysarthria in toddlers

When toddlers learn to speak, the way they form the words, struggle to pronounce, and mispronounce the syllables can be very attractive and heartwarming. Some kids can take more time than others to start talking. It could be nothing, a developmental delay, or some issue with their vocal muscles. Dysarthria in toddlers can be either developmental or acquired.

When a toddler has difficulty forming certain words or slurs when pronouncing certain sounds, parents can neglect it as just baby babbling or baby speech. It is quite common for toddlers to struggle with pronunciation. However, if it is more than just a few mispronounced words, you need to consult your doctor right away to check if it is dysarthria.

In This Article

What is Dysarthria?

Dysarthria makes it difficult for toddler to talk

Dysarthria is a condition that paralyzes or weakens the muscles responsible for speech. It damages the nervous system and impacts control over the voice box or tongue, thus making it difficult to pronounce certain words. It can even cause slurring.

Dysarthria in toddlers is a motor speech disorder that makes it difficult for toddlers to form and pronounce words correctly. As a result, people can’t understand them clearly, which leads to communication problems. We can classify dysarthria in toddlers into two types according to its origin –

Developmental Dysarthria 

Damage to the brain during the fetal stage can lead to issues like cerebral palsy or other conditions that can cause dysarthria. Toddler suffering from dysarthria mostly have developmental dysarthria

Acquired Dysarthria 

When a toddler suffers a stroke, brain tumor, accident, or a disease that affects the brain, it can lead to acquired dysarthria. This type is more common among adults than in children.

Dysarthria can be further classified into 6 different types depending on the part of the nervous system it affects. Dysarthria can result from damage to various parts of the nervous system, brain, or spinal cord. The 6 types are-

  1. Flaccid Dysarthria – Affects lower motor neurons and causes the words to sound breathy and nasal.
  2. Spastic Dysarthria – Affects the upper neurons of one or both sides of the brain and makes words sound strained or harsh.
  3. Ataxic Dysarthria – Impact of damage to the cerebellum – affects the pronunciation of or emphasis on words.
  4. Hypokinetic Dysarthria – Impact of damage to basal ganglia – causes rigid-sounding speech in monotone.
  5. Hyperkinetic Dysarthria – This is also an impact of damage to the basal ganglia but your toddler will use faster-sounding words that make speech unpredictable.
  6. Mixed Dysarthria – The most common type of dysarthria that is a combination of two more of the above-mentioned types.

Causes of Dysarthria in Toddlers

Dysarthria can happen due to various causes

The muscles we use to speak and form words are controlled by a part of the nervous system. When this part of the nervous system suffers damage, it can affect the muscles in the throat, face, and the ones that help us breathe. As a result, it will affect speech and cause dysarthria in toddlers.

Various injuries and illnesses can also lead to acquired dysarthria in toddlers. Some illnesses that can cause acquired childhood dysarthria are-

  • Brain injury or tumor
  • Cerebral palsy
  • Muscular dystrophy
  • Myasthenia gravis
  • Huntington’s disease
  • Lyme disease
  • Multiple sclerosis(MS)
  • Lou Gehrig’s disease
  • Stroke
  • Trauma to the face, mouth, or neck

Sometimes, the medicines you give your toddler to treat certain health conditions can also impact their speech muscles. The best way to repair this damage is to discontinue the medicines and opt for safer options that will not have such a strong impact.

Diagnosis of Dysarthria in Toddlers

Doctor checking tongue and mouth in a toddler

Diagnosing dysarthria in toddlers can be tricky. Some start speaking early and some toddlers will need more time. They may find it difficult to pronounce certain sounds, thus making their speech sound slurry or gurgly. They may just need a little more time to develop speaking skills.

This does not mean you should ignore all warning signs and just let your toddler take time to form words or sentences. There is no harm in consulting a doctor to rule out dysarthria or other conditions.

When you notice your little one having difficulty in forming or pronouncing words, you should consult your pediatrician. They will first conduct a physical exam of the mouth and tongue to check the development of and control over the muscles. Next, they will ask your toddler to do the following before referring you to a speech specialist-

  • Smile, pout, and lick their lips to see how well the muscles work
  • Stick out their tongue to check their control over the muscles
  • Say the alphabet or read out loud
  • Count loudly
  • Repeat words with different sounds and vowels to see which sounds are difficult to pronounce.

[Read : When Will Baby Speaks Her First Word?]

Treatment Options For Dysarthria in Toddlers

Speech therapy helps in dysarthria in toddlers

Speech therapy is the first go-to treatment option for dysarthria. Toddlers benefit from therapy as it helps improve their communication.

If dysarthria is acquired due to dentures or medications, discontinuing them can help the kid get back their speech. However, even in such cases, the toddler might require a therapist to help them develop and strengthen the muscles required for good speech.

Speech therapy for dysarthria in toddlers can help them by learning the following-

  • Exercises targeting the tongue, jaw muscles as well as the lips to improve speech
  • Tips and strategies to speak better and louder – taking deeper or fuller breaths before speaking, pausing, etc.
  • Strategies to improve pronunciation and clarity of speech – speaking slowly, using certain muscles to improve pronunciation
  • Gestures to communicate non-verbally. This can help the child get a break and avoid difficult pronunciations
  • Communicating with confidence to avoid slurring or mispronunciations due to anxiety or fear of speaking

When to See a Doctor?

Any delay or slur in speech should be checked by doctor

If your toddler who is just beginning to form words or is already speaking sentences shows these symptoms, you should consult your doctor without much delay-

  • Voice becomes strained and hoarse
  • Speech is very quiet or too loud
  • Speech is slurred and sounds nasal or breathy
  • Hesitates to speak
  • Does not have a regular rhythm while speaking – shows inability to control vocal cord muscles
  • Finds it difficult to move the tongue or lips to form the right words
  • Speech sounds gurgly
  • Keeps drooling and is unable to swallow properly

The above symptoms indicate your toddler might be having trouble controlling the muscles responsible for speech. The symptoms can be mild or strong. It varies from case to case.

So, it is better to consult your pediatrician and express your concerns even if one of the above symptoms is present. Sometimes, your doctor can give simple exercises to help release the tension in the muscles. If it doesn’t work, they may ask you to consult a speech therapist.

Understanding a toddler with speech difficulty can be difficult even for their own family. With proper treatment and therapy, a toddler can gain control over their speech and learn to communicate confidently and effectively. The key is the right therapy and support. So, offering that to your toddler suffering from dysarthria is the best you can do for them.

[Read : Dealing with Delayed Speech and Language Development in Children ]


1. At What Age Does Dysarthria Start?

Dysarthria can affect children at any age. Developmental dysarthria is discovered when the child starts speaking and acquired dysarthria can affect a child anytime.

2. Is Dysarthria Curable?

If your child’s dysarthria is due to certain medications or dentures, therapy can improve it. However, if it is due to damage to the brain, a stroke, or some trauma, it cannot be reversed.

Read Also: Speech Apraxia in Toddlers – Is it Common and How to Treat it

Sindhuja Prabhu,M.Sc (Psychology),PGDBM

Sindhuja, a mother of two, is an obsessive mom with a keen interest in psychology, especially child psychology. Her quest for knowledge and way with words led her to become a passionate content writer. She transformed her love for writing into a full-fledged career which incidentally also turned up being the perfect stress buster for the last 5 years.Read more.

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